Robin Williams’ family legal feud has been in the headlines this past month. It is a sad and cautionary tale.
Robin Williams’ estate plan was set forth in a trust. Typically, cialis a trust provide a private mechanism for handling one’s final affairs. Unfortunately, viagra that is not the case for the Williams’ family. Robin Williams’ wife, Susan Williams, has asked the court for clarification. The marriage is less than three years old. According to media reports, the dispute centers on personal property. Robin Williams’ widow was provided a life estate in a home in Tiburon, California. Robin Williams and Susan Williams resided in the house in Tiburon, California. Robin Williams also owned a house in Napa, California. Robin Williams’ three children from prior marriages were left personal property, including jewelry, clothing, memorabilia and awards from the entertainment industry. Susan Williams is asking the court to exclude the contents of the Tiburon house from the jewelry, clothing, memorabilia and awards from the entertainment industry left to the children. It has also been alleged that Susan Williams is seeking clarification as to whether Robin Williams’ watch collection is included in the category of jewelry. Susan Williams alleges that the watches were viewed as a prized “collection,” rather than merely as jewelry.
Generally, a court will find that specific language controls over general language. That means that the children most likely will receive the jewelry.
The court, in deciding whether the watch collection is jewelry, most likely, will consult a dictionary. If a watch is defined as a timepiece typically worn on one’s wrist and jewelry is defined as a decorative object that people wear on their body, the watch collection is jewelry.
All parties to the dispute (the widow and the three children) most likely have sufficient assets to fund the cost of the attorneys battling in the court. The cost of the challenge mean that attorney fees will run in the tens of thousands of dollars. The average person can’t afford such a high cost.
It has also been reported that the trustee has not been able to conduct a complete inventory of the items in the Tiburon house.
If your will or trust was drafted by an attorney, you should have had the opportunity to decide if the will or trust referenced a list of personal tangible property. Such a list provides an opportunity to leave items to a named individual.
A will or trust can also specify that things are divided based on some rotational basis. This is often referred to as “coffee table probate.”
Thank goodness, the children received both the clothing and entertainment memorabilia, or the parties would be arguing which category the iconic suspenders from Mork & Mindy fit into.
What lessons can be drawn from this public saga?
The trust should have required mediation before anyone could file a pleading in court. Moreover, the trust should have clearly stated how the mediator was chosen and the penalties for failure to resort to mediation.
Never underestimate greed.
An estate plan must be drafted with specificity, clarity and precision.
If you have any questions regarding a will or trust, Dean Law Office can assist you. Call Margaret Dean at 816-753-3100.